Ensuring Safer, More Effective Cycletracks

Every day in and around the District, tens of thousands of people decide to use a bicycle to get where they need to go. Thousands more decide to join them every year, with the estimated number of DC residents regularly commuting by bike more than tripling since 2000.

In order to provide safe and low-stress routes to get where people need to go, we have installed approximately seven miles of protected bike lane-miles over the past five years. Also known as cycletracks, these routes are designed to help people feel safer and more confident about riding a bike on city streets by putting a physical barrier between cyclists and motor vehicle traffic.

However, illegal unloading, parking and driving in cycletracks have been persistent problems, and undermine their safety and effectiveness. Although we will continue to take enforcement actions and educate the public about the hazards of parking in our bike lanes, we realize that more needs to be done to prevent motor vehicles from impeding cyclists who use our cycletracks.

These are some of the new improvements we’re testing on our cycletracks, which will hopefully make them safer and more inviting for their intended users:

Recycled-rubber curbs will hopefully deter motorists from taking U-turns across the Pennsylvania Avenue cycletrack.

Recycled-rubber curbs will hopefully deter motorists from taking U-turns across the Pennsylvania Avenue cycletrack.

On Pennsylvania Avenue NW, illegal U-turns by motor vehicles across the cycletrack (which is located in the center of the street) resulted in 11 crashes in the first 15 months of cycletrack operation. A one-block pilot test of “zebra” barriers showed a reduction in U-Turns. Learning from that experience, we will be installing longer, recycled-rubber curbs on both sides of the entire cycletrack, in order to provide a physical barrier to those tempted to make an illegal U-turn.

Green paint and long dividers help protect bicyclists on DDOT's new First Street NE protected bike lane.

Green paint and long, rubber curbs help protect bicyclists on DDOT’s new 1st Street NE protected bike lane.

On the brand-new 1st Street NE cycletrack, we built two blocks using concrete curbs to prevent motor vehicles from entering the cycletrack. In sections where the road is not wide enough to include the beefy concrete curbs, we are supplementing flexible posts with narrow, recycled-rubber curbing. To further emphasize that the cycletrack is for bike traffic only, we have added a coat of slip-resistant green paint along its entire length.

A rendering of the proposed changes to the L Street Cycletrack.

A rendering of the proposed changes to the L Street Cycletrack.

On the L Street Cycletrack, we plan to test narrowing a section (between 20th Street and 22nd Street) from eight to six feet wide, and installing additional barriers to provide smaller gaps to enter. Consistent with the design of the forthcoming M Street Cycletrack, we hope that the narrower width will reduce the ability and temptation for drivers to illegally enter the cycletrack. If successful, we will then narrow the remaining bicycle-exclusive sections of the cycletrack.

Cycletracks are new, so continuing education and modifying behavior remains important as well. However, none of these measures are necessarily the final answer to ensuring that our cycletracks are safe, clear and inviting places to ride a bike.

That’s why we’ll remain vigilant and flexible about the measures we take to improve our cycletracks. We will be monitoring illegal U-turns on Pennsylvania Avenue NW, illegal parking on 1st Street NE and L Street NW and crash reports on all three routes. We will continue to participate in cutting-edge research on cycletrack design and operation, such as the forthcoming Green Lane Project cycletrack evaluation research. We will also continue incorporating what we learn to improve existing cycletracks and the ones that we hope to build in the future.

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